Chay! Chay!” The calls of tea vendors echo through India’s train stations at any time, whether it be two o’clock in the morning or ten at night. The vendors are always busy selling tea through train windows. Sometimes they climb aboard a train and get off at another station, sure that tea addicts will buy a cup. The voices wake the passengers, reminding them of their daily need, urging them to take a cup of hot tea. “One rupee!” the vendor says.
Drinking tea is not part of our Vedic culture. The British introduced tea in 1834, after they had conquered India.
Once I asked my grandmother, “Dadiji, did you always drink tea?”
“No,” she replied, somewhat embarrassed.
When she was a child, her father, a well-known attorney in town, would not permit tea in the house except to offer British friends. To keep up with the English “sahibs,” however, Indians in the last century have gradually adopted tea as part of our daily lives.
Indian households restricted tea because it is an intoxicant. Even today, the kids are not given tea. They are supposed to drink milk, which is good for them.
The caffeine in tea urges a person to drink tea again and again. I remember traveling in India once on a short bus ride. Halfway through the journey the bus driver had to stop to drink a cup of tea while the passengers waited.
The Vedic scriptures say that intoxication is one of the four pillars of sin. The others are gambling, meat-eating, and illicit sex. We Indians should not have a problem avoiding these sinful activities, but with the influence of Kali-yuga we have become somewhat lax. Most of us know that all of the above are non-religious habits — except when it comes to tea, coffee, or colas.
Devotees do not offer tea to Lord Krishna. Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter, “Yes, as you have understood, prasadam is offered only from the category of fruits, vegetables, grains, milk products and sugar. This is according to the Bhagavad-gita, wherein Krishna states what He accepts. We have four rules that all my students follow. They do not take any meat, fish, or eggs; no gambling, no intoxicants, including coffee, tea, or cigarettes; and no illicit sex life. Try to follow these four rules, and Krishna will bless you with quick advancement in spiritual life.”
While still in family life, Srila Prabhupada tried unsuccessfully to get his wife and children to give up tea. He once said about his wife, “She was very attached to drinking tea. I was always telling her not to drink tea, because I wanted to have a nice Vaishnava family. So although I was repeatedly telling her, this time [just before he left home] I finally said, ‘You choose between me or tea. Either the tea goes or I go.’ ”
Anything Krishna does not accept, the devotees reject. Eating food not offered to Krishna means bondage in the material world. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (3.13):
bhunjate te tv agham papa
ye pacanty atma-karanat
“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.”
Tea drinking degrades our consciousness. The typical family in India gets up from bed and sips tea, and with tea they either read the newspaper or gossip about mundane affairs. The scriptures recommend that the morning hours are the best time to remember Krishna, perform devotional service, and elevate our consciousness for the day. If we start the day remembering Krishna, the whole day will be spiritual. But if we get up, take tea, and fill ourselves with the rubbish of the material world, we are wasting our valuable morning hours, in which the mode of goodness prevails.
On a recent trip to India I asked people why they drink tea. Most said that tea gives them energy to start the day. Research shows, however, that although tea temporarily increases energy, the body experiences a sudden letdown in activeness after the effect diminishes. The 1983 edition of The Foods and Nutrition Encyclopedia says, “The reason for the lift is that caffeine stimulates the central nervous system (brain) and promotes the breakdown of glucogen to glucose in the liver, which raises the blood sugar level. However, the elevation of blood glucose may be short lived. Hence they feel a letdown due to a drop in their blood sugar.”
Tea makes the body like the hare in the race with the tortoise. The stimulation in caffeine makes the body run. Afterwards the body takes a rest because it cannot function without it. When the body depends on its own strength, it gets much farther.
As with many other drugs, caffeine creates dependency in the body. It also robs the body of nutrients. The stimulation of caffeine has long-term effects and has been implicated in cancer, ulcers, birth defects, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
So the question remains how to give up the old habit of drinking tea morning, noon, and night. The only way to cure the addiction for tea is by getting a “higher taste,” a spiritual lift that will counteract the temporary boost one gets with tea.
One gets so much energy serving Krishna that there is no need of a stimulant. Devotees do not use tea, and still they sleep less, serving Krishna energetically throughout the day. The pleasure of bhakti-yoga, or service to Krishna, is thousands of times greater than the stale material happiness of drinking tea.
Chanting is one of the first processes in bhakti-yoga. The holy names of Krishna are nondifferent from Krishna. Pure chanting of Sri Krishna’s names, specifically the maha-mantra, drives out all desires for material sensations. Krishna’s names are like the sun. Any-thing that comes in contact with that sunlight becomes totally pure. So no material desire can stand before Krishna’s holy name.
In the Bhagavad-gita (2.59), Lord Krishna speaks of the need for acquiring a higher taste:
rasa-varjam raso ‘py asya
param drstva nivartate
“The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.”
Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport, “Unless one is transcendentally situated, it is not possible to cease from sense enjoyment. The process of restriction from sense enjoyment by rules and regulations is something like restricting a diseased person from certain types of eatables. The patient, however, neither likes such restrictions nor loses his taste for eatables. … But one who has tasted the beauty of the Supreme Lord Krishna, in the course of his advancement in Krishna consciousness, no longer has a taste for dead, material things.”
If we artificially restrict ourselves from tea, we will still aspire for that taste. But if someone gives us something better, we will naturally lose our taste for the inferior. If tea gives us a lift, Krishna consciousness gives us unlimited bliss.
By the way, my grandmother has given up drinking tea after fifty-five years. So can you.
Ravi Gupta wrote this when he was twelve year old boy living with his parents, Ananta Rupa Dasa and Aruddha Devi Dasi, who run the Hare Krishna center in Boise, Idaho. (It originally appeared as an article in Back to Godhead Magazine.)